If we all thought we had seen the last of Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP)’s protests after Faizabad, we thought wrong. Now the religious political party has taken the mantle on another issue- to stop the publication of blasphemous cartoons in Netherland. The TLP is demanding that the government expel the Netherlands’ ambassador to Pakistan from the country because of a competition held by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, and in order to push pressure on the government, the party is marching to Islamabad for another episode of its famed bombastic protests. Until yesterday, the party had so far reached Sohwana in Jhelum District.
What is ironic is that the TLP is marching in fury against a government which is actually in agreement with it on the issues. Imran Khan, in his speech in the Senate, harshly condemned the Dutch competition for hurting the sentiments of Muslims, and promised to raise the issue in the United Nations. The Foreign Ministry has also complained of the issue to the Dutch Prime Minister, who has distanced his government away from the blasphemy. Yet it has failed to placate TLP, which is determined to show its resolve against the cartoons by conducting a mass protest. The fact that the PTI will now have to face what could be another debilitating protest by TLP as government now, instead of watching its opponents deal with the fallout, is a classic case of political irony.
What does TLP hope to achieve from this march even though the government is on its side? The only issue of contention that could arise is from TLP’s demand that the Dutch ambassador be expelled, and diplomatic relations with Netherland be broken off- demands which would be unrealistic and internationally outrageous steps for the government to take.
For now, it seems like PTI is playing it safe and trying to avoid a confrontational route with the TLP. The government has repeatedly assured the country that it will take every action against the blasphemy. A high-level committee comprising federal and provincial ministers is geared to meet the leaders of leadership of TLP to appease them from the protest, and to inform them about the measures taken against the blasphemous cartoons. The real conflict will arise if TLP refuses to back down from its demand of expulsion of the Netherlands ambassador. Will PTI bow down to the pressure and make an internationally hostile move at the right start of its government? It remains to be seen.